Contamination and Remediation

Contamination of soil, surface water, or groundwater can occur when substances used or produced in energy development are released to the environment. Energy companies must manage any contamination from their licensed activities or approved facilities. Potential contamination and remediation (managing or removing contaminated material) is considered throughout a project’s life cycle, from application to project closure. The AER has the authority to take enforcement action against operators that fail to manage contamination, particularly if the contamination results in damage to the environment or impairs public health. Releases can be of short or long duration; however, they must be reported immediately upon discovery to the AER. The brochure Release Reporting Requirements summarizes the AER’s reporting requirements.

When a new or historical release is discovered, the AER works with the licensee to ensure that the contamination is appropriately managed. This includes minimizing risks by ensuring accessible contamination is contained and controlled and residual contamination is managed through an appropriate risk management plan.

Adequately managing contamination includes

  • containing and controlling the source of contamination,
  • delineating the extent of the spill both horizontally and vertically,
  • ensuring receptors are not adversely impacted at any point during remediation, and
  • remediating the contamination in a timely manner.

The AER uses a risk ranking process to prioritize its audit of oil and gas activities for contamination management. Risks that are considered include what and who could be affected by contamination, the probability of contamination as a result of the activity, and the area of Alberta in which the activity occurs.

The most effective method for remediating an area and managing contamination depends on the situation. The AER prefers that in situ remedial techniques be explored in favour of soil excavations, minimizing the amount of soil sent to landfills. In situ techniques involve managing or treating the contaminated material in place. Contaminated material treated in situ is not considered oilfield waste.

In certain situations, ex situ treatment may be the best remedial option. This means that licensees manage or treat contaminated material by excavating or removing the material. Contaminated material that is treated or disposed of ex situ is considered oilfield waste and must be disposed of in accordance with Directive 058: Oilfield Waste Management Requirements for the Upstream Petroleum Industry.        

Remediation Certificates for Upstream Oil and Gas Sites

Program Overview

Areas contaminated by a release from upstream oil and gas activities may be eligible for a remediation certificate if the areas have been remediated to Alberta’s Tier 1 or Tier 2 soil and groundwater remediation guidelines. The remediation certificate provides assurance to site owners, managers, and other stakeholders that the contaminated area has been remediated to the satisfaction of the AER and that additional remediation will not be required if guidelines are updated.  

The remediation certificate program is voluntary and anyone may apply for a remediation certificate under the Remediation Certificate Regulation by submitting a complete application form and documentation that demonstrates remediation success to The AER does not charge a fee for submitting remediation certificate applications.    

Remediated areas are eligible for certification under one of two programs:

  • Remediation certificates for general contaminated sites
    • Applies to upstream oil and gas activities under an Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act approval or registration (e.g., sour gas plants, sweet gas plants, oil sand processing plants)
    • Guide, fact sheet, and application form are available from the Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP) website
  • Remediation certificates for upstream oil and gas sites

The voluntary remediation certificate program is separate from the reclamation certificate program which has a different set of requirements and is mandatory for activities on specified land (as defined in the Conservation and Reclamation Regulation). There is no need to get a remediation certificate for an area before applying for a reclamation certificate. Land that has received a reclamation certificate does not automatically qualify for a remediation certificate.

For a greater overview of the remediation certificate program, see the presentation Remediation Certificates 101.

Application Process

To be eligible for a remediation certificate, applicants must complete a Remediation Certificate Application Form, as described in A Guide to Remediation Certificates for Upstream Oil & Gas Sites or A Guide to Remediation Certificates for Contaminated Sites, and must demonstrate that an area has been remediated. The form must be signed by both the applicant and a qualified environmental professional.

The AER will provide public notice of all applications for a remediation certificate that it receives. Anyone who believes they may be directly and adversely affected may file a statement of concern with the AER.

Once a decision is made on a remediation certificate application, the AER will post a notice of decision on this website under Publication of Decision. The remediation certificate and supporting documentation are publicly available. To receive a copy of the materials, submit an information request as outlined on Placing a Product Order.

Decisions issued on remediation certificate applications are subject to the AER’s regulatory appeal process. An eligible person, as defined under section 36 of the Responsible Energy Development Act, may file a request for regulatory appeal.

If you are eligible to file a request for a regulatory appeal and you wish to do so, you must submit your request in accordance with section 30 of the Alberta Energy Regulator Rules of Practice. Regulatory appeal requests should be emailed to

The AER audits a varying number of applications each year to verify that the applications were complete and that the submitted documentation demonstrated remediation success. A remediation certificate may be cancelled based on a substantiated complaint or the results of an audit.